THE STRING OF PEARLS by James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest
XXXV. Sweeney Todd Commences Clearing the Road to Retirement
Todd was but half satisfied with this excuse of Master Charley’s, and yet it was one he could not very well object to, and might be true; so, after looking at Johanna for some moments suspiciously, he thought he might take it upon trust.
‘Well, well,’ he said, ‘no doubt you will be better tomorrow. There’s your sixpence for today; go and get yourself some dinner; and the cheapest thing you can do is to go to Lovett’s pie-shop with it.’
‘Thank you, sir.’
Johanna was aware as she walked out of the shop, that the eyes of Sweeney Todd were fixed upon her, and that if she betrayed, by even the remotest gesture, that she had suspicions of him, probably he would yet prevent her exit; so she kept herself seemingly calm, and went out very slowly; but it was a great relief to gain the street, and feel that she was not under the same roof with that dreadful and dreaded man.
Instead of going to Lovett’s pie-shop, Johanna turned into a pastry-cook’s near at hand, and partook of some refreshments; and while she is doing so, we will go back again, and take a glance at Sweeney Todd as he sat in his shop alone.
There was a look of great triumph upon his face, and his eyes sparkled with an unwonted brilliance. It was quite clear that Sweeney Todd was deeply congratulating himself upon something; and, at length, diving his hand into the depths of a huge pocket, he produced the identical string of pearls for which he had already received so large a sum from Mr Mundel.
‘Truly,’ he said, ‘I must be one of Fortune’s prime favourites, indeed. Why, this string of pearls to me is a continued fortune; who could have for one moment dreamed of such a piece of rare fortune? I need not now be at all suspicious or troubled concerning John Mundel. He has lost his pearls, and lost his money. Ha, ha, ha! That is glorious; I will shut up shop sooner than I intended by far, and be off to the continent. Yes, my next sale of the string of pearls shall be in Holland.’
With the pearls in his hand, Todd now appeared to fall into a very distracted train of thought, which lasted him about ten minutes, and then some accidental noise in the street, or the next house, jarred upon his nerves, and he sprang to his feet, exclaiming, ‘What’s that—what’s that?’
All was still again, and he became reassured.
‘What a fool I get,’ he muttered to himself, ‘that every casual sound disturbs me, and causes this tremor. It is time, now that I am getting nervous, that I should leave England. But first, I must dispose of one whose implacable disposition I know well, and who would hunt me to the farthest corner of the earth, if she were not at peace in the grave. Yes, the peace of the grave must do for her. I can think of no other mode of silencing so large a claim.’
As he spoke those words, he took from his pocket the small packet of poison that he had purchased, and held it up between him and the light with a self-satisfied expression. Then he rose hastily, for he had again seated himself, and walked to the window, as if he were anxious for the return of Johanna, in order that he might leave the place. As he waited, he saw a young girl approach the shop, and having entered it, she said, ‘Mrs Lovett’s compliments, Mr Todd, and she has sent you this note, and will be glad to see you at eight o’clock this evening.’
‘Oh, very well, very well. Why, Lucy, you look prettier than ever.’
‘It’s more than you do, Mr Todd,’ said the girl, as she left, apparently in high indignation that so ugly a specimen of humanity as Sweeney Todd should have taken it upon himself to pay her a compliment.
Todd only gave a hideous sort of a grin, and then he opened the letter which had been brought to him. It was without signature, and contained the following words:
The new cook is already tired of his place, and you must tonight make another vacancy. He is the most troublesome one I have had, because the most educated. He must be got rid of—you know how. I am certain mischief will come of it.
‘Indeed!’ said Todd, when he finished this epistle, ‘this is quick; well, well, we shall see, we shall see. Perhaps we shall get rid of more than one person, who otherwise would be troublesome tonight. But here comes my new boy; he suspects nothing.’
Johanna returned, and Todd asked somewhat curiously about the toothache; however, she made him so apparently calm and cool a reply, that he was completely foiled, and fancied that his former suspicions must surely have had no real foundation, but had been provoked merely by his fears.
‘Charley,’ he said, ‘you will keep an eye on the door, and when anyone wants me, you will pull that spring, which communicates with a bell that will make me hear. I am merely going to my bedroom.’
‘Very well, sir.’
Todd gave another suspicious glance at her, and then left the shop. She had hoped that he would have gone out, so that there would have been another opportunity, and a better one than the last, of searching the place, but in that she was disappointed; and there was no recourse but to wait with patience.
The day was on the decline, and a strong impression came over Johanna’s mind, that something in particular would happen before it wholly passed away into darkness. She almost trembled to think what that something could be, and that she might be compelled to be a witness to violence, from which her gentle spirit revolted; and had it not been that she had determined nothing should stop her from investigating the fate of poor Mark Ingestrie, she could even then have rushed into the street in despair.
But as the soft daylight deepened into the dim shadows of evening, she grew more composed, and was better able, with a calmer spirit, to await the progress of events.
Objects were but faintly discernible in the shop when Sweeney Todd came downstairs again; and he ordered Johanna to light a small oil lamp which shed but a very faint and sickly ray around it, and by no means facilitated the curiosity of anyone who might wish to peep in at the window.
‘I am going out,’ he said, ‘I shall be gone an hour, but not longer. You may say so to anyone who calls.’
‘I will, sir.’
‘Be vigilant, Charley, and your reward is certain.’
‘I pray to Heaven it may be,’ said Johanna, when she was again alone; but scarcely had the words passed her lips, when a hackney coach drove up to the door; and then alighted someone who came direct into the shop. He was a tall, gentlemanly-looking man, and before Johanna could utter a word, he said, ‘The watchword, Miss Oakley, is St Dunstan; I am a friend.’
Oh, how delightful it was to Johanna, to hear such words, oppressed as she was by the fearful solitude of that house; she sprang eagerly forward, saying, ‘Yes, yes; oh, yes! I had the letter.’
‘Hush! there is no time to lose. Is there any hiding-place here at all?’
‘Oh yes! a large cupboard.’
‘That will do; wait here a moment while I bring in a friend of mine, if you please, Miss Oakley. We have got some work to do tonight.’
The tall man, who was as cool and collected as anyone might be, went to the door, and presently returned with two persons, both of whom, it was found, might with very little trouble be hidden in the cupboard. Then there was a whispered consultation for a few minutes, after which the first corner turned to Johanna, and said, ‘Miss Oakley, when do you expect Todd to return?’
‘In an hour.’
‘Very well. As soon as he does return, I shall come in to be shaved, and no doubt you will be sent away; but do not go further than the door, whatever you do, as we may possibly want you. You can easily linger about the window.’
‘Yes, yes! But why is all this mystery? Tell me what it is that you mean by all this. Is there any necessity for keeping me in the dark about it?’
‘Miss Oakley, there is nothing exactly to tell you yet, but it is hoped that this night will remove some mysteries, and open your eyes to many circumstances that at present you cannot see. The villainy of Sweeney Todd will be espied, and if there be any hope of your restoration to one in whom you feel a great interest, it will be by such means.
‘You mean Mark Ingestrie?’
‘I do. Your history has been related to me.’
‘And who are you—why keep up to me a disguise if you are a friend?’
‘I am a magistrate, and my name is Blunt; so you may be assured that all that can be done shall be done.’
‘But, hold! you spoke of coming here to be shaved. If you do, let me implore you not to sit in that chair. There is some horrible mystery connected with it, but what it is, I cannot tell. Do not sit in it.’
‘I thank you for your caution, but it is to be shaved in that very chair that I came. I know there is a mystery connected with it, and it is in order that it should be no longer a mystery that I have resolved upon running what, perhaps, may be considered a little risk. But our further stay here would be imprudent. Now, if you please.’
These last words were uttered to the two officers that the magistrate had brought with him, and it was quite wonderful to see with what tact and precision they managed to wedge themselves into the cupboard, the door of which they desired Johanna to close upon them, and when she had done so and turned round, she found that the magistrate was gone.
Johanna was in a great state of agitation, but still it was some comfort to her now to know that she was not alone, and that there were two strong and no doubt well-armed men ready to take her part, should anything occur amiss; she was much more assured of her own safety, and yet she was much more nervous than she had been.
She waited for Sweeney Todd, and strove to catch the sound of his returning footstep, but she heard it not; and, as that gentleman went about some rather important business, we cannot do better than follow him, and see how he progressed with it.
When he left his shop, he went direct to Bell-yard, although it was a little before the time named for his visit to Mrs Lovett.
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